Time is of the Essence as Economic Pressures Ripple Through Fleet
by Brett Tolley NAMA Community Organizer and Sean Sullivan Marketing, Outreach and Development Associate
As more and more stories pour in about groundfish quota allocations being sold/transferred/accumulated, the news, and the outlook, seems grim. We all knew consolidation was an unwritten objective for the new sector management plan adopted by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), but do we really want a monolithic fleet controlled by large corporations or foreign banks and the demise of our traditional shore-based fleet? It happened in the Surf Clam/Ocean Quahog fishery in the Mid-Atlantic region and all the signs are pointing in the same direction for the Northeast groundfish fishery.
The economics are simple. Recent reports indicate that Cod quota is being leased for $1.50/lb landed fish and permits being sold outright for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cod prices vary seasonally from $1/lb to $3/lb at auction with $2/lb the norm. For fishermen, leasing quota represents an additional fixed cost of 30-100% of their gross income. For most small-scale fishermen struggling with small allocations to begin with, leasing quota or buying permits would be financial suicide (even if they could afford them or find a bank crazy enough to finance such a purchase). Conversely, leasing their quota to someone else provides a steady paycheck only slightly less than they could make fishing – without the risk. A Devil’s bargain if ever there were one: fish and eke out a living on a small allocation or give up the job you love.
At the June New England Fisheries Management Council Meeting, we succeeded in bringing the testimonies of seven fishermen from New York to Downeast Maine to the council as well as the testimonies of community activists, food market experts and social scientists who explained why fleet diversity matters if we want to meet our ecological and biological goals. And, why New England needs protections against excessive consolidation. In the end, we believe our efforts were instrumental in helping the unanimous passage of a resolution directing the Council’s Plan Development Team (PDT) to consider the following goals in shaping a whitepaper about Fleet Diversity to:
- Maintain inshore and offshore fleets.
- To the extent possible, maintain a diverse groundfish fishery, including different gear types, vessel sizes, geographic locations, and levels of participation.
- Maintain a balance in the geographic distribution of permits to protect fishing communities and the infrastructure they provide.
- Prohibit any person or government entity from acquiring or controlling excessive access to the resource, in order to prevent extraction of disproportionate economic rents from other permits.
But, as we’ve seen, events on the waterfront are moving faster than the rules. We are currently organizing to urge the NEFMC Council to create protections to ensure long-term fleet diversity. We are seeking in-person/written or video testimony from fishermen, community groups, food system advocates and anyone who believes that “Who fishes matters!”
We have heard from Council members that the June testimonies were effective, and we have shown we can impact the debate. There is precious little time to lose. Sign the Fleet Vision Petition now. Tell NOAA/NMFS and our elected leaders that a diverse fleet is important to the ocean, the fish, you and your community.